Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Jimmy Page to face Stairway to Heaven copyright trial
Led Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page will face a US jury trial next month over whether they stole the opening chords for their 1971 hit Stairway to Heaven.
District Judge Gary Klausner ruled that Stairway and the 1967 instrumental Taurus by the band Spirit, were similar enough to let a jury decide whether Plant and Page were liable for copyright infringement.
A trial is scheduled for May 10.
The lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, who was Spirit’s guitarist and the composer of Taurus.
Mr Skidmore said Page might have been inspired to write Stairway for Led Zeppelin after hearing Spirit perform Taurus while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969, but that Wolfe never got credit.
The defendants said Wolfe was a songwriter-for-hire who had no copyright claim, and that the chord progressions were so cliched that they did not deserve copyright protection.
“While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,” Mr Klausner wrote.
“What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works … a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.”
Mr Klausner dismissed claims against Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Warner Music Group Corp.
He also said the trustee could get only 50 per cent of any damages awarded, citing a 1967 contract that Wolfe signed.
“This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong,” said Francis Malofiy, a lawyer for Mr Skidmore.
A lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
According to the complaint, Wolfe complained about the similarities of the songs in an interview shortly before he drowned in 1997 in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to rescue his son.
Stairway to Heaven is a track on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album, often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV.